Shiraz Uppal presents Ankahi

To say that Shiraz Uppal is a musician of diverse talent would be an understatement — he’s composed, mixed, recorded and mastered his latest album, Ankahi, all by himself. He’s also had the privilege of working with A.R. Rehman, not once but twice.

Before all this, he delivered Roya Re, a song dripping with the blues and melancholy that propelled him into the limelight, thanks to Mahesh Bhatt’s film, Dhoka (2007). Now, Uppal has returned with his third album which features the likes of Zeb and Haniya, Baqir Abbas, Kami and Ali Hamza of Noori, to name a few.

His first two albums, Tu Hai Meri (2001) and Tera Te Mera (2003), did well, but it was Jhuki Jhuki (2005) whose title track and Man Ja Ve made people sit up and take notice of Uppal’s music-making. And now on Eid-ul-Fitr, Uppal released Ankahi through Fire Records.

Ankahi starts off slow for a title track, showcasing that Uppal doesn’t want to follow a formula for opening an album. He’s joined on backing vocals by Zeb and Haniya, which adds a pleasant mix to the number.

Next, Rabba sounds like it’s been taken from or is part of an Indian movie soundtrack — you can almost picture the lovelorn hero scouring the landscape for his lady love. It is strangely melodic and its melancholy lyrics are accompanied by amazing flute play.

Munn Laga is where Uppal brings in the organic sound and mixes it delicately with the modern. Amir Azhar and Asif Ali carefully serenade with Uppal’s singing on bass and tabla and dholak, respectively. It’s a familiar track — not that it feels lifted or borrowed — as the composition pays respect to heritage and culture. Munn Laga is particularly refreshing in the sense that in an age where more and more Pakistani musicians jump on the guitar, drum and trance bandwagon, Uppal mixes the old with the new and keeps it focused at the same time.

There are two Roya Re tracks here with the first one from the film (the fact that Uppal put it on the album shows that he wasn’t afraid of it overshadowing the other tracks). The second subtitled Original Version is a stripped down, basic version of the original. Whereas the film version required the track to be big, the other one starts slow and then picks up at the chorus. It’s the same yet different because of Uppal’s careful composition. He did the original to prove he could withstand the Bollywood test and now with the original he’s out to prove that he can compose and sing on another level, too.

If there was anybody on this album who could overshadow Uppal it would be Baqir Abbas’ flute on Tere Bina. Abbas’ flute is like an undercurrent to the song, flowing through it in the background. And just when you think it’s gone, it’s back again. The only slightly annoying part is where Uppal interjects and sings a few verses in English. Clearly the song could’ve done without it.

Pehla Pehla Pyar is particularly well-composed. It has just the right beat and the mixture of backing vocals and guitars. Kami’s guitar here is particularly noteworthy, not too much and not too little, always there helping to carry the song ahead.

Kabhi Kabhi is a happy-go-lucky song where Uppal sings about all the positive things in life. It’s not him singing “don’t worry, be happy” but that’s the essential message we get to hear. It could’ve been much better but ends up sounding like a filler at best.

In Nadaan written by Noori’s Ali Hamza, the guitars and bass are all over the place, but in a good way. The track stands out as being the most jumpy on the album and it’s nice to hear Uppal taking this change of pace. Fareeha Pervaiz joins in on the vocals in Tum He To Ho and like Munn Laga, it is the old school sound of music in terms of arrangement and composition.

Shiraz Uppal is one of the underrated musicians in Pakistan and if you haven’t heard him before, well it’s about time you got started.